If you’re in San Francisco this week for FOG Design + Art, be sure to stop by “Sanctuary” at Fort Mason Chapel, just a 10-minute walk from the fair at Fort Mason Center. “Sanctuary” is the latest art project from FOR-SITE, an organization that commissions and presents art about place. Notable exhibitions have included the 2016 “Home Land Security” and “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” in 2014.
Cheryl Haines, the Founding Executive Director of the non-profit spoke with Whitewaller San Francisco about inviting 36 artists from 21 countries to design rugs reflecting on the idea of sanctuary. On view through March 11 are rugs by artists like Hamra Abbas, Diana Al-Hadid, John Akomfrah, Shirazeh Houshiary, Hank Willis Thomas, Alfredo Jaar, and others, laid out on the floor, inviting visitors to remove their shoes, walk, sit, and find a quiet space for reflection.
WHITEWALL: What was the starting point for “Sanctuary,” which opened in October?
CHERYL HAINES: “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz,” was the largest project that we have completed to date. That became a turning point for us, and for me as a curator, in thinking about my responsibility to address contemporary social issues in tandem with artists who have long been on the vanguard of social change.
Sanctuary is really quite a broad subject—both physical and psychological, it has been a basic and fundamental human need from the beginning of recorded time. One of the artists has addressed that, John Akomfrah with his piece, The Cave. It’s a kaleidoscopic pattern based on prehistoric paintings from Argnetina Cueva de las Manos. That structure provided safety and security 13,000 years ago. His quote about it is wonderful, reading “Our yearning for sanctuary, both as symbolic evocation as well as real knowledge of an actual place, [is] one of the oldest human yearnings. It’s as old as our sense of home, as enduring as our grasp of time, as defining as our sense of mortality.”
This project starts with a universal umbrella of the notion of sanctuary and then continues on that path in such a variety of voices. Like Tammam Azzam who talks about his former studio in Syria, before he was forced to leave Damascus. The sanctuary of his studio gave him safety. Now he’s had to move his family in exile in Germany. He’s talking about his migratory experience and his path as a refugee from a war-torn place to a place of safety.
And there is a layering of the fact that San Francisco is a sanctuary city. All of these things come together to me in a very poetic way to help us address right to safe harbor for people, and really think about how we can support one another.
WW: How did you envision the installation of this within Fort Mason Chapel?
CH: There are 36 rugs and they are all handwoven by artisans in Lahore, Pakistan. They are stunningly beautiful. They are really thrilling. I’m very proud of the artists being willing to step up and design for a medium that most of them have never worked in before. That’s courageous.
The rugs are placed on the floor in a grid with nothing more in the chapel. We request that the viewers remove their shoes and enter, walk, sit, recline, on the artworks. It’s really an opportunity to contemplate our shared humanity and what the notion of individual and collective sanctuary is all about.
Our work has always been about asking questions. Not necessarily providing answers.
WW: What questions do you want people to be asking?
CH: We’re asking visitors to really connect with the physicality of these objects and the history that they represent. There is some reference to prayer rugs in this work, though not exclusively. By removing the shoes and physically connecting to these works, I really want visitors to experience perspective of other cultures.